My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day, for their number is past my knowledge. With the mighty deeds of the Lord GOD I will come; I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone. O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.
My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed. And my tongue will talk of your righteous help all the day long…
PSALM 71:15-18, 23-24a (ESV)
Reading the Bible can be an intimidating thing. Depending on who you talk to there are a dozen great places to start. And each starting point could be radically different from the next. There are distinct types of books within its pages after all, some historical narrative, others lyrical poetry, still more surreal prophecy. Holding a Bible in your hand can be intimidating too, its weight closer in memory to a textbook than a sacred religious text.
Once you dive into its pages though, the practice of regular reading doesn’t seem so daunting. Verses stick out and return to you in moments of need. Relatable characters and their fates offer warnings and suggestions for your life. As you continue, a picture emerges. It turns out that the Bible’s books, though different in type and audience, are connected. Even when the chapters don’t unfold in a neat chronological order, it’s clear that there is a story here. God has given us in scripture a grand narrative, from creation to fall to redemption to eternity.
Theologian NT Wright says this is by design. God, by nature, is a storyteller. What other conclusion could we make after seeing how He paints with vivid colors, creates unforgettable characters, and positions everything perfectly for a breathtaking story?
In their book The Drama of Scripture, Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen look at this narrative and unpack it a step further. They see in the Bible God writing a six-act feature. It opens with creation, turns on the fall of man, and rises with the Israelites and the old covenant. After God’s people break this agreement, the third act ends, and intermission begins the great hush between the Old and New Testaments. The birth of Jesus breaks the silence to start the fourth act. Finally, we have the emergence of the Church, and then comes the final act, the return of the King. It’s a grand story, one that encompasses entire histories of nations, countless scores of characters, and generations of conflicts. Only a master storyteller could put it all together.
With this aerial view, reading the Bible becomes a much less intimidating activity. We return to its pages to experience the narrative with fresh perspective. Still, while the play analogy is certainly helpful for this newfound eagerness, reality isn’t quite as neat as that analogy might imply. As Bartholomew and Goheen point out, once you leap from the aerial view back into the text, you start to notice that there are some things missing. And not just prescriptive things, like an order of worship for the New Testament church. No, if we’re tracking with their six-act division of the Bible’s narrative, it’s impossible to miss that nearly all of the fifth act is missing. We get all of creation, the fall, the old covenant (and its dissolution), Jesus’ arrival, and Jesus’ return. But in between the birth and the second coming is the whole life of the Body of Christ. And outside of the beginning of the First Church in Acts and the epistles, we have a lot of blank pages in God’s story of humanity. The Church begins, and suddenly Revelation appears as the story is ending.
Why is this? Why would a perfect storyteller leave out a major portion of His perfect story?
NT Wright says that these pages are blank because it is our responsibility to fill them. This is an intimidating, even scandalous thought, but follow his train of thought here for a second. Imagine you and your circle are Shakespearean actors. You are born to do what you do, and you feel an immense sense of purpose as you perform. Now, you’ve been provided with a newly discovered manuscript of a play nobody has ever read. It has all the hallmarks of Shakespeare’s work, from the intricate language to the colorful characters, but you see that a large piece is missing. For the benefit of the entire art world, you must perform this play. To do this, you know you will have to study Shakespeare’s language, understand his writing inside and out, and faithfully assemble the pieces in an order that makes narrative sense. You are building a bridge between the story before you and the ending after you. A watching world awaits.
Wright says this is the position you and I hold in God’s grand narrative. We know the work God’s done to bring us here. We know the way His promise will be fulfilled in eternity. But the pages before us up to that fulfillment are blank.
It’s in the mystery of this that we learn to trust and to study and to walk. How boring it would be if the Bible was simply the roadmap we often treat it to be. Instead, God leaves blanks for us to discover His wonderful story, equipping us to play our part in it. Imagine the joy and the excitement of the actors in the hypothetical situation above. They would be fueled with a deep sense of anticipation and pushed forward by a desire to do right by the opportunity. We sit in a similar position with God. We know the ending to His story is perfect. We don’t need to add to it or set it up well. Nor do we need to go back for rewrites to make it all connect. God is not asking for that of us. He simply wants us to participate and to find joy in the discovery. To play our part well, we’ll need to study His body of work, rehearse our parts in worship, and perform. We can’t carry His words if we don’t know His voice. We can’t take His steps if we don’t know His way.
Lord I come to You dependent. I don’t want to take another step or speak another word by my own power or my own will. God help me to hear Your words, to know Your Spirit’s gentle guidance, to see the path of Your Son. I could never be content to try and fit you into my story. God remind me that I am found in the perfect, captivating story You’ve written for us. Help me play my part today with joy and obedience. AMEN.
Are you “winging it” in your life with Christ? What would it change to see yourself in God’s grand story? Knowing that God’s narrative offers each of us a part to play, consider what it would look like to prepare for your role. Study the word of God, look ahead to the concluding chapter. Faithfully fill the pages He has laid out before you.